On a grueling day at Muirfield Village, the swirling winds gave players fits — most notably, Tiger Woods posted the worst nine holes in his career, 44, on the back nine — but several players survived. Matt Kuchar managed to roll off five birdies on his way to a two-under 70 to take a two-shot lead over Kevin Chappell and Kyle Stanley.
Let’s try a new, different format. (Which will be refined over the next week — I thinking of doing best of/worst of type of categories, but adding a fun, WUP twist, of course. Suggestions/feedback welcome. Thanks!)
Matt Kuchar: After his runner-up finish last week at Colonial, he’s in a prime position to become the second multiple winner on Tour this season (only Tiger, obviously). Kuchar, the Match Play champ, had his own troubles with the wind, like on the 15th when his second shot blew into a hazard that he didn’t know existed, but he was — you got it — better than most. Perhaps Kuchar should continue to grow out his beard because it appears to be bringing him good vibes. He’s keeping it for now. Why? Simple: “Because my wife likes it,” he said, laughing.
Kevin Chappell: He matched JJ Henry for the low round of the day, a four-under 68, but Chappell’s might be even more impressive because he had a later tee time and battled with the worst of the breezy conditions. He definitely had the best analogy of the day when he was asked about dealing with the wind: “I guess it’s like a prize fighter, he enjoys winning, but I don’t know if he enjoys getting hit that much.” He was full of good lines, actually. Here now, he was asked about having a good day when so many players struggled: “If you had told me I would shoot 4-under par today on the first tee, I would have gladly gone and had a milkshake.”
Justin Rose: The 2011 Memorial champ has quietly been near the top of the leaderboard all week. Rose, who shot a pair of 70s in the first two rounds, posted a one-under 71 (again, anything under par was stellar) and trails Kuchar by three strokes headed into Sunday. He plans to draw on memories when he won in 2011. “When I won this thing a few years ago, I was chasing Sunday three back. It was similar conditions, and I got it done. This course has a history of the wind swirling. But obviously when it’s blowing this hard, it plays a little more consistent. That’s the only good thing I can say about it. The rest is very tough. The greens are rolling perfectly, but quick, but there’s no letup. You have to hit good shot after good shot, which is how it should be.”
JJ Henry: While many struggled on the second nine, Henry shot a four-under 32 (teed off no. 10). As I mentioned, he posted the low round of the day, 68. When it was brought to his attention that he beat Tiger by 12 shots on the back nine, Henry shrugged and said, “He’s the best player in the world. I’m just trying to make a living out here.” His reaction was kind of funny and it was almost as if he was backing away from the media scrum — probably scared to say something negative for fear of backlash after the whole Sergio controversy.
Fred Couples: Oh, Freddie. He’s timeless. He bogeyed the last two holes and shot a two-under 70. Fast greens? Wind? No problem. Fred said he’s putted as good as ever this week. As we know, he’s never struggled with his ballstriking, rather those pesky four-footers. Couples brought his swing coach with him because he was a bit rusty. Last time he touched a club? The Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in Savannah, April 26-28. Most guys I wouldn’t believe or I’d bet they were exaggerating, but with Fred? He’s telling the truth.
Tiger Woods: Yeah, we’ve already beat that one to death. People say he never mails it in. Well, his care level was pretty low on that back nine where he shot 44. Over/under on his score tomorrow? He’ll either shoot a meaningless 65 or cruise to a smooth 75.
Bill Haas: I feel like it’s wrong to really criticize anyone for their score today, but you know, that’s not the point of the column. Haas lost his lead with three consecutive bogeys on the back nine. He grinded for a four-over 76 and remains in contention, just three shots off the lead, so he’s definitely still in the mix. It was a draining day, especially because the greens are super slick and then you have to factor in the wind. Haas explains: “It’s tough. It’s the wind. This is a tough golf course without wind. And the greens are at least 13s on the Stimpmeter. With that much wind, it makes it difficult to make putts. Tough for me today, but there are scores out there. You can get it. Tomorrow I’ve got to focus a little harder on the putts and make a few.”
Rory McIlroy: The two-time major champ grinded — which he’s admitted hasn’t been his strong suit in the past — to make the cut after opening with a 78, so he deserves credit for that. He finished up his second round this morning and bogeyed a few coming in, but snuck inside the cut line. He was mediocre this afternoon, shooting three-over 75 (scoring average: 73.6). As we know, he’s not the best wind player.
Zach Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Justin Hicks: They failed to break 80, but really, who am I to judge? Sh** happens. Those of you who shot in the 70s this weekend can go ahead and pat yourself on the back. Pros have bad days, too. It actually is somewhat comforting, especially after my career worst this morning (these days that happens whenever I play), but I enjoyed Worthington Hills CC — nice course with slick but pure greens.